HOW I BECAME A GM- My Journey to the Top of the Middle

I am the General Manager of an MLB affiliated Minor League Baseball team, one of only 160 or so in the world.  I am passionate about my work: not baseball so much, as the ability to make people happy, show them joy, and help toss a little magic into their lives. I am also passionate about working with college students entering their final years of school, who are looking ahead to the future. Providing them insight into the landscape of the industry in which they’re hoping to work. Pulling back the curtain, if you will. When I speak with a class, I always begin with MY story. Not because I think it will show them THE path, but because it demonstrates the ability to reach THE destination having taken the pass less traveled. I thought I would share it with you here, today.

IT All Started When I Was 3 (Not Really)

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Most everyone I work with in baseball, and most everyone I’ve met who works in baseball, always knew that was what they wanted to do. They came out of college and started as an intern, became an assistant, and eventually joined their organization as a front office employee. Many are athletes, most all are fans of the sport. I played sports, albeit Soccer, Basketball, Tennis, but I was never all that good. And when at 14 years old I started playing guitar, I began to forge a new path off the court, and onto the stage. Music was, is, my passion much in the way sports is a passion for those with whom I work. So for me, the stage was set (pun intended): practice music, pursue the dream of playing in a touring and recording band, wake up in a new city every morning, and make millions of dollars.

Didn’t happen (clearly). I didn’t have the talent, nor did I have the drive, to make that life a reality. And for a while, I just kind of hung out waiting… and waiting… for what, I don’t know. I began to foresee a life where I was alone, stuck, frustrated, so I began the long, slow process of becoming the person I needed to be. I went back to school, finished what I’d previously halted, and went out into the real world.

In Which I Become A Working Man

My first “job”, was a year-long unpaid internship with an NRP affiliate. I went to work every day, helped to gather news, write news stories, edit audio, and occasionally report on small pieces. To know me is to know that I don’t have a “radio voice”, so most of my time was spent helping to shape stories. My first pass at college had been as a Journalism major, so this line of work made sense for me. I’ve always loved the news, and I loved being a part of a bustling newsroom. Some days it was fast, some days it was slow, but it was rarely boring. I actually worked a paying job during this year as well, in a call center for a catalog, and thinking back on that now I’m not sure when I slept. Unpaid internships were the norm then, and sometimes it’s hard to hold my tongue when I see debate over the low level of pay interns now receive.

From there, I took my lack-of-talents to a communications group that owned two small radio stations. One was a county station, the other classical. I began in production, editing audio for commercials and content, and eventually worked my way up to Station Manager. Working for a small group, with a small group of people, was an excellent way to learn the business. But also how to get along with a team, how to motivate a

team, how to delegate duties and tasks. The greatest lesson I learned working in the news business was how to take a large amount of information and consolidate it into four easy, bite-sized pieces of information, and then disseminate that information to those who need it. And while I enjoyed production: writing and recording commercials, delivering the news on radio each morning… I wasn’t making enough money to do the things I wanted to do. I was married, and my wife and I wanted to buy a house, have kids, but that was tough with what we were making at the time. So I started to sell advertising for the stations in addition to managing, and discovered I had the ability to sell. In short time, selling became the focal point of my work, and I decided it was time to move on yet again.

“Good News Honey, I’ll No Longer Be Receiving a Paycheck”

Sports Radio WEEI was the top rated sports radio station in the country in 2005, and the highest rated station for men across the board. Covering the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins, WEEI captivated the minds and souls of sports and entertainment fans all over New England. Having lived in Boston for many years, I was already a fan of the station, and decided that was where I needed to be. I talked my way into a sales job (selling myself, as it were) and moved from a station with thousands of listeners to a station with millions of listeners. That wasn’t the only change, though. I moved from a salaried position, to a 100% commission-based position. Meaning I was only paid when I sold radio commercials. That took some explaining at home. I’m happy to say I quickly fell into a groove, though, and in short time had reached a decent level of success. It was like the Wild West then: the station was slaying in the ratings, the staff was huge, and most everyone was making a decent amount of money. It was not unlike a fraternity. I learned a lot about selling, but in so many other ways I didn’t feel comfortable. It didn’t feel like a whole job, only part of a job. I wasn’t fulfilled. And then, the most amazing thing happened.

The Baseball Years: 2006-Present

After five consecutive days of interviews, I was offered a job with the Pawtucket Red Sox; Minor League Triple-A baseball affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The place where I’d seen my first professional baseball game more than 20 years prior, and home to perhaps the most beloved business in Rhode Island. I began work as a sales guy, selling advertising, sponsorship, and tickets, and quickly picked up several other responsibilities (In Minor League Baseball, “everyone does everything” is the mantra). I had the distinct pleasure of learning the business from an Owner with a heart of gold, a President who was as much father as boss, and a General Manager for whom optimism was a resting place. We saw a lot of baseball, a few concerts, broke some records, shared successes and disappointments, and in my final year in 2012, won the International League Championship. And while I may have stayed there for my entire career, a new challenge was beckoning.

In the fall of 2012 I moved my family to Connecticut, and joined the New Britain Rock Cats; Minor League Double-A baseball affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. You may ask why I’d take a job a “step down” the ladder. Working in baseball isn’t the same as playing in baseball. You don’t move from lower affiliate front offices, up to higher affiliate front offices, with the hopes of one day working for a Major League Baseball team. Each organization is an independent business, and in many instances a lower classification affiliate can actually be more successful than a higher classification affiliate. For me, the reason to move to Connecticut was clear: there was a chance we’d be building a brand new ballpark, and rebranding the organization. I have an entrepreneurial spirit, a great love of entrepreneurs, and the chance to be part of a “start-up” was too hard to pass up. After a couple of years things fell into place for better or worse (often worse, but that’s another story), and in 2017 we opened Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, Connecticut taking the field as the Hartford Yard Goats.

As the Assistant General Manager of the Yard Goats, finally getting the ballpark open and enjoying immensely unusual success, felt like the culmination of all of those years of finding my way. I was professionally fulfilled, I felt the type of ownership over my work I’d long hoped to feel, and the spoils of my (our) work was on full display to the public so that it felt like a greater, larger success. If rising tides float all boats, we felt like the tide. At the end of the inaugural season in 2017, I was offered, and accepted, the position of General Manager. For someone who feels so lucky to be doing the work that I do, and who feels truly humbled by the talent on display by his co-workers daily, I don’t personally hold my title in high regard: I’m just one of 35 people who come to work every day, does his job, and goes home to his family. My greater pride is in having forged the path here, despite the fact that I languished for several years, and despite the fact that I had to make career decisions along the way. I can’t imagine that, if I’d made a different decision at any point along the way, my station could ever feel so right. Call it destiny, call it hard work, call it luck. Maybe call it a combination of all three.

Mike Abramson is the General Manager for the Hartford Yard Goats MiLB team, Double-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. You can follow him on Twitter at @YardGoatsGM.

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